The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has halted the election to fill former Judge Ann Lokuta's judicial seat on the Luzerne County Court. Joe Holden of the WBRE newsteam broke the news on this evening's newscast.
The Supreme Court also ordered the Court of Judicial Discipline to consider whether it should reopen Lokuta's case. That's because three of the witnesses against her pleaded guilty in an ongoing federal corruption probe at the Luzerne County Courthouse.
Judicial Conduct Board Chief Counsel Joseph Massa previously argued in court documents about her appeals after her removal from the bench. From an article written by Coulter Jones in the Citizens Voice.
“(Lokuta) has consistently claimed there was a conspiracy of individuals to fabricate evidence of misconduct about her,” Massa wrote. “The fact that certain individuals who testified as part of the board’s group of 31 witnesses have been charged with independently committing crimes, or have been found to have financial connections to each other, does not simultaneously support that they conspired to fabricate evidence of judicial misconduct about (Lokuta).”
Massa wrote that Conahan and Ciavarella were only “two witnesses among a total pool of 31 who testified as part of the board’s case,” and their testimony was no more “key” than any of the other witnesses. Massa also disputed that Lokuta’s appeal is any more complicated than other appeals of this nature.
Lokuta had also objected that Richard Sprague, who served as president judge during her trial, didn’t recuse himself even though a potential conflict existed since he had represented Robert J. Powell and other potential witnesses from the Powell Law Group, P.C. According to court documents filed by federal prosecutors last month, Conahan and Ciavarella took $2.6 million in kickbacks from two individuals — Powell is believed to be one — tied to Pennsylvania Child Care LLC, a company whose juvenile detention centers earned nearly $30 million from county contracts.
Massa argued that during Lokuta’s trial, only one witness from the Powell Law Group, Prothonotary Jill Moran, testified and that didn’t necessitate Sprague stepping down.
You can read about Sprague's 225 page Opinion against Lokuta by clicking here.
That relationship wasn't the only one she raised in her defense. Dave Janoski in the Times-Tribune wrote this information in July, 2008.
Judge Lokuta had asked the court, which is considering sanctions against her, to dismiss the charges or reopen the case because of a recently revealed financial relationship between a key prosecution witness, county Senior Judge Michael T. Conahan, and the chairman of the state board that filed the charges, and local auto parts executive Patrick Judge Sr.
Mr. Judge and Judge Conahan are co-investors in a local ambulance company and a Florida real-estate firm. Mr. Judge was chairman of the state Judicial Conduct Board when it approved charges against Judge Lokuta in October 2006. Last year, he was named to the seven-member Court of Judicial Discipline, which has two members who are neither judges nor lawyers.
The one-sentence order denying Judge Lokuta’s request did not give a reason for the denial. Philadelphia attorney Richard Sprague, one of three members of the Court of Judicial Discipline who presided over Judge Lokuta’s 12-day trial, signed the order. He did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Her fight is not over but I have to give Ann credit. She is staying her course.